Why Older Women Overwhelmingly Live In Poverty — That Was My Trajectory

When I was 19, I dropped out of college to follow my boyfriend to Colorado, where he was going to attend college.

I didn’t know that I was going to end up supporting him with my minimum-wage jobs. But, I didn’t care; we were two young idealistic hippies who spent our weekends hiking in the Rockies with our pups. We married a few months before my 21st birthday.

We were poor, but money didn’t really matter all that much to me then. We had enough to get by, and life felt rich in so many other ways.

Still, all those years of working minimum-wage jobs were a drag.

Women overwhelmingly work low-paying jobs — as child and elder care workers, restaurant servers, maids, teachers, retailers, cashiers, workers, and receptionists. But even women with degrees and high-income careers typically make less than men do.

And then life happens.

Some women dial back paying work to be at home to raise children and then struggle to get back into the workplace; others quit altogether, sometimes willingly and other times out of necessity because of the high costs of childcare. Some have to leave their paid work to care-give a spouse, sibling, or parent, or in an increasing number of cases, to raise their grandchildren.

Some find themselves divorced at midlife, or widowed. Some may be happily single and then a financial crisis happens — an illness, a recession, a pandemic, furloughs, or layoffs. Some may have lost their job and are unable to find new ones because of ageism.

Some have worked hard all their lives and are still struggling because all women, but especially Black women and other women of color, Native American women, disabled women, and often queer and trans women make less than white hetero men.